12, 2003: Houston Astros at New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium
and an Oh Yes
The Yanks became
a part of baseball
history in a most undignifed manner on the night before this game. Not only
did they have a no-hitter pitched against them, they had a no-hitter pitched against
them by a sextet of Houston Astros hurlers. While four pitchers had combined on
a no-hitter before (twice, actually), no team had ever used so many in a no-no.
The Astros' situation came about when starter Roy Oswalt pulled up lame with a
groin injury two pitches into the second inning. Manager Jimy Williams deftly
scotch-taped his way through the ballgame until he could get to his two relief
aces, Octavio Dotel and Billy Wagner, to close the deal.
I saw the second
half of the ballgame, but I have to admit I was mostly half-watching. I had dinner
on Wednesday night with Greg Spira of Baseball Prospectus, and afterwards we went
to a bar to watch the Yankee game and shoot the breeze. I took him to Manitoba's,
an East Village bar
owned by Handsome
Dick Manitoba, the former lead singer of the '70s New York punk band the
Dictators. Handsome Dick (real name Richard Blum) is a big Yanks fan and the
bar's a decent place to watch a ballgame if you don't mind closed-captioning and
a punk-heavy jukebox. So the Dead Boys classic "Sonic Reducer" blared while the
'Stros pitchers reduced the Yankee bats to splinters, the Yankee lineup underwent
its own "Personality Crisis" in tandem with the New York Dolls chestnut, and Joe
Torre looked like he wanna be sedated.
We joined the game
right as Lance Berkman made his diving catch on Alfonso Soriano's blooper to end
the fifth. At that point the score was 4-0, but that's all we knew. It wasn't
until the end of the sixth that I saw a shot of the scoreboard and that trio of
zeroes in the Yankee R H E columns. That piqued our interest. We started talked
no-hitters. Greg's been to Jose
Jiminez's in Arizona in 1999, along with an entire SABR convention. The closest
I've come was Bartolo Colon taking one into the eighth against the Yanks on September
18, 2000. Greg asked if I had been rooting for Colon at that point, to which
I replied that I would have if the no-no had survived until the ninth inning.
That was in the midst of that
infamous Yankee slide at the end of the 2000 season, and I wasn't in any mood
for concessions then.
But it's not as
though I'd never seen a no-no. I've watched two in full (Nolan Ryan's fifth,
in 1981, against the Dodgers -- now there was a guy who could turn me against
my own team -- and Jack Morris' 1984
gem agains the White Sox) and seen the last few innings of several (Kevin
Gross and Bud Smith come to mind). I missed both David Wells' and David Cone's
perfectos for various reasons, and came one agonizing strike away when Mike Mussina
nearly pulled it off.
When the Astros'
Brad Lidge got through the Yanks in the seventh, I smelled toast. They were about
to face the best setup man in the game in Dotel, a fireballer who strikes out
1.5 batters per inning pitched, followed by Wagner, who... well, ditto. The two
lived up to their billing. Thanks to a passed ball on a third strike that allowed
Soriano to reach first, Dotel actually tied the major leauge record with four
strikeouts in one inning. Wagner struck out the first two batters in the ninth,
giving the Yanks an ignominious eight strikeouts in a row, tying an AL record.
Hideki Matsui mercifully ended both that string and the game by doing what he
apparently does best, grounding out.
I have to admit
I wasn't even finicky this time. I figure to see the Yanks lose about 60 times
this year, and this was already going to be one of them. The no-no would be a
neat little catch, but it might also serve the larger purpose of showing the Yanks
that they'd reached the nadir of their season. Joe Torre certainly treated it
that way, reading the Yanks the riot act. According
to the Times:
Manager Joe Torre kept the
clubhouse closed for several minutes and held a meeting in which players said
he called the game embarrassing. Torre, bothered by how the Yankees played, looked
and acted, told them this sort of play would not be tolerated. "Whatever kind
of history it was, it was terrible," Torre said. "It was one of the worst games
I've ever been involved with."
Echoes of Tommy
Lasorda I've-never-been-so-sick take on Reggie Jackson's 3-homer World Series
game in 1977. Elsewhere, phrases like "embarassment," "totally inexcusable," and
"rock bottom" were used by players and management. Not suprisingly, the Steinbrenner
Watch is on Full Alert in all of the New York area papers today, with hitting
coach Rick Down assumed to be the one wearing the tightest noose. It must be a
great time to be a Yankee hater.
Against this backdrop,
I headed to Yankee Stadium on Thursday afternoon, fairly certain that the sequel
would have a different ending than the night before. After all, only once in baseball
history have two no-hitters been thrown in the same park on back-to-back days.
I was joined by Greg, the second ballgame we've taken in together this past week
(we went to last Friday's Mets-Mariners ballgame at Shea, along with Sean Forman
of Baseball-Reference and frequent Baseball Primer poster David Nieporent).
I arrived a bit
late due to subway difficulties, and thus missed the Astros scoring two runs off
of David Wells in the top of the first. Greg filled me in with a flawless play-by-play,
rescuing my scorecard from oblivion. The Yanks got a run back in the bottom of
the inning against Jeriome Robertson, a rookie lefty I'd never seen before. Soriano
led off the first with a walk (something he does fewer times a year than hit a
leadoff homer, I'll wager) and then Derek Jeter beat out a bunt to third, the
newly-annointed captain getting the monkey off of the Yanks' back in short order.
Sori ended up scoring on a sac fly by cleanup hitter (and Torre pet) Todd Zeile.
Wells settled down,
and the Yanks took a lead in the fourth. Raul Mondesi laced a ground-rule double
down the leftfield line and over the wall, and Hideki Matsui followed with a sharp
RBI single to right. A John Flaherty single took Godzilla to third, where he scored
from on a sac fly by Juan Rivera.
Astro hitters kept finding holes, racking up six hits through five innings. But
some timely defense, especially by Zeile, kept the Yanks in front. Zeile made
good plays on a couple of slow rollers and started an inning-ending 5-4-3 DP on
Jeff Bagwell in the fifth. My
presence seems to be bringing out the best in him.
But in the sixth,
Wells ran out of whatever combination of luck and gas had carried him through
the first five frames. Three straight singles loaded the bases with none out,
and Brian (the speedy one, right?) Hunter followed with a sac fly (the fourth
of the ballgame). Number nine hitter and defensive specialist Adam Everett nearly
took Wells over the wall, then socked a ground-rule double that scored two, at
which point nearly 40,000 Yankee fans sighed in unison, "Uh-oh, here we go again."
During this May-June swoon, one stat that hasn't been overlooked is that the Yanks
had yet to come from behind to win a ballgame in which they'd trailed after six
The team seemed
to be feeling that pressure in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Bubba Trammell
singled, and Flaherty ripped a double into the left-center gap. With the Astro
outfielders having displayed woefully off-line throws thus far, third base coach
Willie Randolph was licking his chops as he waved Trammell around to score. This
time the Astros made a perfect relay play, Berkman to 3B Morgan Ensberg to catcher
Greg Zaun, and Bubba was lunch.
Jimy Williams chose
the occasion to pull Robertson in favor of Kris Sarloos, one of the previous night's
heroes. Juan Rivera worked a full count off of Sarloos and then picked up Flaherty
on a single to left, and the Yanks cut the Astro lead to 5-4. They tied the game
in the next inning after Berkman dove and missed a Jason Giambi bloop for a double,
and Mondesi lined a two-out single to right. The clutch hitting animated the crowd
considerably, and there was a palpable sense of we're-gonna-win-this-one relief
in the air.
had come on in relief of Wells after six; the REAL Osuna, not the impersonator
who bore a rather strong resemblance to Juan Acevedo on Tuesday night. Osuna
shut down Houston in the seventh and eighth, allowing only one hit.
Dotel, Hideki Matsui led off the Yankee eighth. In the hole 0-2, he hit a fast
grounder right down the line to Bagwell, who got the ball just past the bag, but
apparently not so well. E-3. Pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra stroked a single as I badmouthed
him, and then pinch-hitter Jorge Posada battled back from 0-2 to draw a walk,
loading the bases with none out. Rivera popped out, but Soriano dunked one into
rightfield, scoring a run. Dotel finally settled down and struck out Jeter and
Giambi for a grim reminder of the previous evening's affairs.
But the Yanks
had the lead going into the ninth, so "Enter Sandman." Mo Rivera rung up Craig
Biggio to start the 9th, and ended up closing the door on the Astros, just like
he's supposed to, giving the Yanks their first late-inning come-from-behind victory
of the season.
Not to mention
their third straight in my presence. If George won't spring for my limo, I figure
the Yankee coaches might chip in.
Yanks 6, Astros 5. One
late arrival, one come-from-behind victory, no no-hitters, one complimentary copy
of Total Baseball VII, courtesy of my guest Greg Spira.